We all should have purpose. But have you found yours in your career? Take a read. Have a think.
by Amy Watt
It seems “purpose” is one of the buzzwords of 2016, with articles starting to appear about the arrival of the “Chief Purpose Officer” and YouTube videos on this theme available in droves. Perhaps because 2016 is such a surprising year, full of unexpected events, it seems that many of us are asking “why do I do what I do?” or “what exactly is the point of all this?” But discovering our personal mission or purpose isn’t always obvious, particularly in the fast-paced, ever-changing world of comms.
So if you feel a sinking feeling when you have to answer a question about what you do (and don’t want people to confuse your work with advertising any more) it might be time to start exploring your personal purpose and how to find it in your comms role.
If you do decide to go down this route, the first thing to recognise is that not everyone in this industry will have the same purpose. Putting aside the brands we promote, and whether or not we endorse their work, you might find fulfilment in your comms career because you love writing, or creative thinking, or communicating. Or perhaps you are energised by the challenge of reviving tired brands, providing valuable public information, advising world leaders or transforming organisations. It could be any of these things or more. Whatever the motivation, knowing why you work in this industry is extremely powerful. Life-changing, even.
Take me as an example. When I started as a grad in a comms agency nine years ago, my work was incredibly varied. I was pitching everything from data centres to dog bowls. There were many times when I found myself wondering what on earth is the point of this?
Of course, every account executive has to learn the ropes. But with the work being so varied, it confused me more often than it inspired me. There were so many topics, companies and tasks floating around in my head that it was pretty tough to focus on any elements beyond the day to day.
I found myself questioning why I was even in the industry and started to wonder if I’d chosen the wrong career. But every so often my job would give me so much satisfaction that I knew I had a connection with this career path. I would organise an event where the speakers were entrepreneurs who had done incredible things. I’d share their stories as part of my clients’ campaigns. I’d find that I was reaching people with a message that could genuinely help them.
At this stage I didn’t really devote much time to figuring out how I could do more of what I loved and move away from the bits that didn’t resonate with me. Seven years down the line I was still no closer to a clear career ambition or path. I just sort of took things as they came, which meant being involved in all kinds of projects, some fun and some not so fun.
What I did know was that I didn’t want to aim for a senior role in the agency world. This type of position, although I’m sure it is fascinating and rewarding, just wasn’t right for me. Instead, I left my agency job and went freelance, giving me more time and space to think. I began working with a life coach to figure out what makes me tick.
After just a couple of conversations with my coach a light switch went on. I realised that what really energises me is connecting people to themselves and others. This theme linked to all the areas of comms that I loved:
I’m obsessed with meaning and love working on projects where there are genuine new insights and authentic messages to be shared, or that offer perceptive commentary on society.
I love to write on behalf of experts, helping them to connect with a wider audience and get meaningful content out there.
I like to get to know and understand a brand’s spokespeople as individuals and learn about their lives beyond their job titles, seeing how their work ties into their life story and connecting this to their messages.
Connecting people to themselves and others is at the heart of what I love in other areas of my life too. That is why I trained as a yoga teacher, why I love reading about self development and why I prefer having a conversation with one person I feel a strong connection with to making small talk in a group. It is just what comes naturally to me.
For others their purpose in comms will be completely different, thanks to the variety of the industry. But whatever it is, it is likely to apply to their personal lives too. For instance, comms professionals whose purpose is to dream up the most creative ideas will often do this through their hobbies, as well as their client campaigns. Natural planners are not just excellent at organising work events, they also love to plan parties for friends.
Once we know our purpose in our comms career, we have to be vigilant and not allow ourselves to only do a little of the purpose-based work we love and begrudge the other 30 hours of the working week. One way to do this is to make sure that some of the people you work most closely with know what your purpose is. That way, they will associate you with this area and your work will likely become more focused and rewarding.
If you're not sure what yours is yet, here is a really helpful article from my coach Elaine Grix, who can explain how to find it much better than me. And here's a great video from author Joey Reiman that could be the rocket fuel you need for your purpose-finding mission.
Finally, don’t necessarily expect your purpose to emerge overnight. It took me nearly ten years in the comms industry before I figured mine out. But now I feel I can talk with more conviction about what I do and why I’m good at it, helping me to attract the kind of work I enjoy. I promise, you won’t regret going on this journey. Good luck!